Despite the fact that he was speaking to a Tampa Bay-area Democratic Executive Committee on Monday night, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants you to know that he is not a candidate for Governor in 2018. Not yet, anyway.
“I’m very undecided. I’m going around the state talking about what I think is important and listening,” he began in addressing the Hillsborough County DEC at the Letter Carriers Hall in Tampa. “One thing I know is you’re the customer, and if you listen to the customer, you’ll understand what you need to do and what’s necessary.”
If that sounds like something a businessman would say, Levine would probably take that as a compliment. He made a fortune as a cruise ship magnate before opting to utilize his political science degree from the University of Michigan to run for Mayor of Miami Beach in 2013, where he’s since become a leader on combating climate change.
“The Democratic Party has historically been the party of working men and women,” he said. “I think it’s important that we learn from our past. Let’s start having candidates who have actually worked,” he said to sustained cheers. He said it could be a bartender, busboy, teacher or technician, but he said that people should for office who have some real life work experience.
Levine began his twenty-minute address by talking about his upbringing, and how he ultimately decided to run for office.
“Some people get swept into office, I got floated into office in Miami Beach,” he said about his decision early on in his mayoralty to do something about sea level rise. Levine got down to work on the issue immediately, and ended up raising stormwater taxes to the tune of $400 million on valves, pumps and raised roads from the public. That effort landed Levine national recognition in places like Vanity Fair and the New York Times, as well as a documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio called “Before the Flood.”
“I play the Mayor of Miami Beach. It was a tough role,” Levine joked.
Levine also spent time talking about reforming his police department, which he said lacked leadership before he took over. He said he changed the culture when he hired Dan Oakes, the former police chief in Ann Arbor and Aurora, Colorado.
“When you run for office and you tell the police you’re going to make all kinds of changes, you’re not very popular,” he said. “Needless to say, I didn’t get any endorsements there.”
The other milestone that Levine has done to distinguish him statewide is challenge Governor Rick Scott by passing the first minimum living wage to $13.31 last year, becoming the first city in the state to do so. He said while Democrats are embracing the concept of raising the minimum/living wage, he says it’s actually a conservative principal. “You can’t live on $8.10 an hour. So who’s paying for these people to live? The taxpayers, with social services.”
Levine was in all in for Hillary Clinton , and boasted about being the rare Democrat to appear regularly on Fox News last year as a surrogate. In doing so, he was able to speak to all voters, which he inferred Democrats need to do more of.
“It’s important for us to be represented on Fox,” he said, “we have to reach out, it has to be all inclusive in order to win elections.”
Levine commented on the Enterprise Florida/Visit Florida issue dominating the news cycle in Tallahassee so far in the legislative session. In emphasizing his business worldview, he said it should be renamed “Entrepreneur Florida.”
“Why isn’t NASA the new Silicon Valley of our state?” he asked. He also said that every Florida student should be able to attend college, “Whether they can afford it or not,” without explaining how that plan might be paid for.
He also mourned the loss of film incentives to lure Hollywood productions to the Sunshine State, bemoaning the fact that Georgia now hosts so many film and television productions. “Why would you want to kick out an industry that somehow brings great jobs?”
“I think they’re going to fund Governor Scott’s next campaign,” he joked, saying that state leaders there are grateful for the state leadership’s failure to replenish that incentive program.
Levine took questions after his speech. He told one citizen that even though he possesses a concealed weapons permit, he believes assault weapons should be banned, earning applause.
He said his one of his biggest pet peeves out of Tallahassee is how the Legislature likes to wrestle local control away from city and county governments.
He was a little shakier when asked to weigh in on Rick Scott’s decision to remove Orlando/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s from the Markeith Loyd case in Orlando, after she announced last week she would not pursue the death penalty against the alleged cop killer.
Levine said he wasn’t an attorney, but thought maybe the governor overstepped his boundaries. But then he went on to say that Scott was taking his marching orders from the Trump administration, and then referred to Trump’s mass firing of 46 U.S. Attorneys earlier this month. He then somehow segued into saying that it was a crazy time, and that it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat, “we’re all Americans,” eliciting applause, though it was sort of a crazy ending to the question.
Levine’s appearance in Tampa shows that the unofficial campaign for 2018 has begun. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was in Tampa on Saturday, and attorney John Morgan is scheduled to address a Tiger Bay event in the city later this month.